Low-Cost Virtual Laboratory Workbench for Electronic Engineering

Low-Cost Virtual Laboratory Workbench for Electronic Engineering

Ifeyinwa E. Achumba (University of Portsmouth, UK), Djamel Azzi (University of Portsmouth, UK) and James Stocker (University of Portsmouth, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1770-4.ch014
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The laboratory component of undergraduate engineering education poses challenges in resource constrained engineering faculties. The cost, time, space and physical presence requirements of the traditional (real) laboratory approach are the contributory factors. These resource constraints may mitigate the acquisition of meaningful laboratory experiences by students, which is especially true in developing countries. Virtual laboratories can be used to complement the traditional laboratory to enhance students’ laboratory experience. In extreme cases of lack of resources, the virtual lab can be used as an alternative laboratory . Although some research on the implementation of virtual laboratories has occurred, more efforts are required because of the diverse experiential needs and requirements of the engineering curriculum. This paper presents a low-cost, web-based virtual laboratory workbench for use as part of undergraduate electronic engineering courses. Some distinguishing features of the virtual workbench are that students can undertake curriculum-based laboratory activities in a realistic manner; it integrates a Bayesian Network-based assessment structure for the assessment of students’ performance; and it affords the instructor flexibility in designing laboratory exercises.
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In the early years of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (EEE) degree programmes, undergraduate students face the challenge of grasping the fundamental concepts taught in lectures. In universities offering a 5-year undergraduate EEE programme such as the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO), Nigeria, all the EEE students offer the same course units in their first three years of study. During this three-year period, the students are exposed to the foundations of science and general studies, fundamental EEE course principles and circuit theory. Laboratory activities are concentrated mainly in the second and third years of study. At the end of the third year, students choose their preferred EEE course options: Communication Engineering (COE), Power Systems Engineering (PSE) and Electronic and Computer Engineering (ECE). As the students enter into their fourth and fifth years of study, they concentrate mainly on course units for their respective options. At this level, they begin to apply the fundamental concepts learnt in their earlier years to specific problem contexts.

Research has shown that students find it difficult to grasp the fundamental concepts taught in the early years of EEE degree programme (Gilbert, 2003). Laboratory activities can be used to enhance students’ understanding of concepts taught in lectures. However, laboratory education can present a number of challenges to engineering faculties, especially those in developing countries which often lack meaningful laboratory resources because of resource constraints and students often far outnumber the available laboratory equipment. The severity of these challenges in developing countries is such that some students may graduate without the opportunity for meaningful laboratory experiences. The cost, time, space and physical presence requirements of the traditional engineering laboratory approach are major contributory factors to these challenges. A web-based virtual laboratory has the potential to address most of these militating factors.

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